It’s possible that one of your employees is considered a hypochondriac. According to the Cleveland Clinic, the most current term for hypochondria is illness anxiety disorder (IAD). Generally, people with IAD believe that they’re suffering from serious illnesses even when the medical evidence doesn’t support their self-diagnosis. In the technology age, IAD can be intensified by the wealth of medical information available on the internet.
According to U.S. News and World Report, IAD affects one in every 20 Americans, making it a significant issue for employers. If you have an employee who’s a hypochondriac, it can result in absences and low productivity. Your HR decision-maker should be involved to properly manage the issues related to the individual employee. Here are five general tips for handling IAD:
1. Employee Meeting
When IAD affects an employee’s performance, it’s time to get involved. A meeting with the employee about the specific issue will begin a dialog concerning the underlying cause. Because IAD is a deeply personal part of the employee’s life, it’s important to handle discussions with delicacy and allow the employee to state their case. For example, if the issue is attendance, the conversation starts with absences and then onto reasons for the absences.
People who suffer from IAD may have attendance issues due to numerous doctor appointments. While it’s important to allow reasonable time off for health issues, create guidelines for what’s acceptable. Obviously, if there’s a specific diagnosis and course of treatment it’s normal to make changes in schedules to accommodate the treatment. In the case of a hypochondriac, there may be no diagnosis and the need for time off may be related to a search for a diagnosis. Your HR decision-maker should hold employees to the same standard of fairness.
The decision-maker doesn’t have the right to tell an employee to stop going to the doctor, but they can suggest that the employee seek help through an employee assistance program. This way, they can receive a referral to a counselor or a medical professional who specializes in IAD.
4. Communication and Education
Whenever you’re dealing with a specific issue, it’s smart to arrange for an informational meeting with your employees. These meetings can take the form of educational forums about health resources that may include discussions about anxiety and health.
Guidelines for attendance and time off should be standard for all employees. If your policy allows employees to have time off for medical appointments, a hypochondriac employee can push the limits of what’s reasonable use of the privilege. To achieve fairness with all employees, consider requiring employees to limit their appointments to first thing in the morning, last thing in the afternoon or lunch hours. If the time off is due to regular scheduled treatment, it isn’t unreasonable to request information concerning the length and duration of the treatment. While you may have a liberal policy concerning medical time off, it’s important that your business isn’t disrupted.
IAD is a difficult diagnosis. While you may have sympathy for your employee, it’s important that your business and other employees aren’t weighed down by the demands of a particular employee. Your HR decision-maker has the knowledge and resources to navigate through what may be an emotionally charged situation.
Mary Parsons is retired from a 30-year career in the insurance industry. She worked in the claims department of a major insurance carrier as a claims adjuster, manager and a member of a catastrophe team. Since her retirement, she has developed a career as a freelance writer. As an insurance professional, she has been a contributor to several insurance websites.